The Twenty-Fifth Anniversary of Post-Furman Executions in North Carolina: A History of One Southern State’s Evolving Standards of Decency
Elon Law Review, Vol. 1, p. 113, 2009
46 Pages Posted: 14 Oct 2009 Last revised: 5 Aug 2019
Date Written: February 2, 2009
The State of North Carolina resumed executions post-Furman on March 16, 1984, at 2:00 a.m., with the execution by electrocution of James Hutchins, a severely mentally ill many who had shot and killed three law enforcement agents. Over the next 25 years, North Carolina executed 42 men and one woman. This article provides a brief overview of the more significant events that have shaped the face of the death penalty in this new era - events which the author views as coming in four waves - three that have ebbed and one that is yet to hit.
The first wave was the crime wave of the 1980’s and early 90’s. This wave generated much energy, creating a second wave, one of strong public support for the death penalty; this wave, in turn, contributed to a third wave of increased death sentences. These waves have now subsided.
Since 2006, there has been a de facto moratorium on executions in North Carolina. When and if the moratorium is lifted, Adcock predicts that North Carolina’s Governor will likely find him or herself facing the “fourth wave” - a wave of execution dates not seen by any previous governor of this state or, perhaps, of any state. And this wave will involve a unique backdrop: a “sea change” in both the public support for the death penalty in North Carolina and in the reliability of the death penalty system, which has increased dramatically due to recent reforms.
This article, ultimately, is about the Governor’s role at the time of a pending execution. Based on the history of executions in this state and on the changed milieu, this article argues that clemency must be done differently post-moratorium and offers the Governor some ideas for doing justice in the face of the coming wave of executions in today’s new landscape.
Keywords: death penalty, capital punishment, clemency, executions
JEL Classification: Z00
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation